She walks into my office at the appointed time, asks how I’m doing, sits down and blesses herself to begin her confession. She’s been through this before with me so I kinda suspect what will unfold.
It’s the humblest activity that I do as a priest. Granted it’s a sacrament and that’s my job but to hear honesty flow through mishaps, mistakes, and omissions leaves me speechless.
I realized years ago that I really don’t need to be there. She’s talking to God and I happen to the person in front of her. Does that make it easier for her? No way. Well, in another way, I’m wrong because it does make a difference. Is she talking through me to God. That understanding I don’t mind because that’s the sacrament’s intention. A representative accepts on behalf of the congregation the failures and sins of one person looking for a resolution and a new definition of hope.
I gave up on the guys who say, “It’s been two weeks since my last confession and I cursed 14 times.” I may not be good in Math but that’s an easy one. I hope the curses were directed toward himself instead of dangerously toward his wife and deadly to his boss. Those times last about thirty seconds and I’m on the next person.
I gave up on the priests who give “prayer” as a penance. (Wish to read that sentence again!) I said more “Our Fathers” after lying to my parents which did little to make me a better person but made me view the “Our Father” as a burden instead of an uplifting devotional prayer. (Lazy priests abound and shame on you all.)
I gave up on giving penances. “Go do something nice for someone,” was useful for a few years but seems trite the older I get. “Just keep living,” is my response to, “Do I get a penance, Father?” I don’t give advice because then insurance companies are involved and payments are always delayed. (I’m kidding.) If you acknowledge something as a sin then you know what its resolution is. I smile to myself when a movie tries to make confession a device tool to further the story. (That’s just tacky.)
Properly performed, if that’s possible, the sacrament of penance instills healing and hope as much as the sacrament of the sick. Protestant ministers say they envy us Catholics with our spiritual methods but I know they have effective methods of their own. Who doesn’t wish for a little more hope in his/her life and a dash of healing after a silly argument and an acknowledged mistake.
But Catholics often miss the power of these seven wonders we call sacraments. Their verbs give themselves away. “Did you go to confession?” “We’re going to 10:00 a.m. Mass today,” “Did she get the sacrament of the sick before she died?” “You’re getting confirmed at the Easter Vigil service,” “I got ordained a priest in 1980.”
Get, Gotten and Getting
Get, gotten and getting are the Catholic verbs for the extraordinary action between the Creator and His creation.
If there is a window between heaven and earth, if there is an opening that invites us to peek our weary noses into eternity – it’s got (sorry) to be the sacraments. The touching of fingers between Adam and God is when honesty is held above our foolish deceit when hope is held higher than our human failures. I’m not being flowery, believe me.
The “finger thing” finally occurred to me with loads of seven-year-old confessions, their first time (trust me, I have patience). The parish encourages their parents to participate in the sacrament as well. During this long period of time, the pianist plays soothing music to float away the waiting minutes while all these people participate in the “going” to confession. I’m in a corner of the church, being hearing impaired, and mom after dad come to me with their lists or one concern or just that his kid is watching to see if he’ll really “go” but I’m not able to hear him over those soothing notes and would never dare to have a penitent repeat just because I can’t hear the sins.
That’s when the meaning of the sacrament became meaningful to me. It was never about me but about their feeble or sincere attempts to correct what they know is correctable, to quiet themselves when loudness seems to not work when they feel God is further from them than they’d like. I hear a word or two but I keep my concerned or smiling face toward them. Some tears appear so I know that she isn’t “going” anywhere except back to her family with a new resolve and grounded hope, he squirms back and forth so I know that he’s talking about something uncomfortable but needs to be told within the sacrament.
Giving “absolution” is my piece of this earthly/heavenly pie. I don’t “forgive” anyone and I don’t “admonish” anyone, I simply (really? Is that the right word?) absolve each one in the name of their families and friends and unknown parishioners. We shake hands and I wonder as they walk away what they told me. Or do I really need to know?
But I can still hear the Catholic’s greatest hits continue on the grand piano.